Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Now You See It (or not)

Eastern Meadlow lark nest, exposed
I got another surprise Sunday morning as I was watering a fairly new Acer rubrum 'Autumn Flame' to the west of the house, in an area that I used to mow but have left "long" these past two years.   Practically at my feet, a brown streak exploded and then quickly disappeared into the eight-inch-tall grass about 25 feet away.  Looking carefully near my feet, I found another bird nest filled with 5 brown-speckled eggs.  Using some local forbs as references, I mentally marked the location.

I returned about an hour later to photograph the nest and spent about 25 minutes looking for it, even knowing it was within a 5 foot square area, and I located it only after I got on my hands and knees and slowly combed the brush to find it.

 Can you find the nest?

How about now?  It's like one of those "Where's Waldo?" games isn't it?  Imagine me moving gingerly around the area, expecting every minute to hear a crunch as I accidentally ruin the nest.

Well, I'll make it easy, the nest is in the exact center of the photo below.  In the first photo above, it's in the right third quadrant at the center line, and in the second picture it's at the upper left.  Almost impossible to find even from a few feet up or away.

This is an Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) nest and although it is laying exposed on the ground for lumbering animals to step on or slithering snakes to seize on, I've got to give the mother Meadowlark extra credit points for care.  This is a much better camouflaged and constructed nest than the matted patches of grass the Killdeer start their families in.  I guess I'm being a little judgemental here, but, hey, I know a dotting mother when I see one.

I won't go looking for this one again because I'm afraid of damaging the brood, which takes about 2 weeks to hatch and another 2 weeks to empty.  And my own inability to avoid a nest that I KNOW is there makes me wonder how these birds ever evolved to ground-nest in an area filled in recent centuries by bison herds and in millennia past by larger herbivores including primeval horses, rhinos, and mastodons.  I would have predicted that the first stupid bird to drop an egg on the prairie would have seen its eggs quickly crushed and its gene pool darwinized to extinction.  Timing the movement of the herds, perhaps?  Sheer numbers?   Certainly. there weren't many other choices for nesting sites, since there were few trees on that virgin prairie.

But this nest does make me even more happy that I let the grasses grow in this area over the objections of Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  Aside from the decreased mowing time and gasoline usage, I'm now seeing the beginnings of the environmental riches that the native prairie can provide.


  1. Now I know your surprise! And it where's waldo...he he.

  2. Ooops, you're right, I'll correct it. You've got the granddaughter anyway, my kids are far past the Waldo stage.

  3. That is absolutely fantastic! I'm pretty sure that we've got meadowlarks nesting in the Back 5 (and maybe in the front, too) but I've never found a nest before. Congratulations! And what an advertisement for not mowing.

  4. I'd certainly have never found this one if the bird hadn't exploded at my feet, initially leaving the "door" to the nest visible. The wind closed the grass over it quickly.

  5. What a nice surprising find. I'm not sure about your eastern Meadowlarks, but the western cousins aren't so lucky with habitat disappearing at a rapid rate. The summer sounds of meadowlarks are only mere memories for me now.

    What always amazes me is how the animal, bird, insect or whatever subject critter that has a nest which is not so obvious to us , they have no trouble at all knowing where to go.


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